Prediction: The D-backs will win this series.
Let’s compare the teams for the season.
- The Nationals’ 31 wins ranks last in the Majors. The Diamondbacks’ 40 wins ranks 22nd.
- The Nationals’ only starting pitcher with an ERA+ over 100 is Paolo Espino with an ERA+ of 110. The Diamondbacks have four starting pitchers with an ERA+ over 100 (Merrill Kelly 124 ERA+, Zac Gallen 114 ERA+, Madison Bumgarner 106 ERA+, and Zach Davies 103 ERA+).
Let’s compare the teams in July.
- In their last 10 games, the Nationals won less games (1 vs 3).
- In July, the Nationals hit less home runs (13 vs 19).
- In July, fewer Nationals batters had a wOBA above .300 (2 vs 9). Two batters drove the Nationals offense: Juan Soto, 6 homers, .577 wOBA, and Josh Bell, 2 homers, .358 wOBA.
Prediction: Eventually Juan Soto will sign with the Nationals.
Much was written about Juan Soto saying no to a gigantic $440 million contract with the Nationals. A friend’s email was on target saying “Seems ill advised...”
Let’s explore what Soto was thinking in hopes of gaining insights on whether he will sign with the Nationals.
What did Juan Soto say?
“For me, this is the team I’ve been [with] since, what, 2015? I’ve been with this team, and I feel good with it. When I get to know the city more, it feels great. Why should I need to change?” — Juan Soto
My conclusion is that, putting aside monetary considerations, he wants to continue playing for the Nationals.
“Anything you want to know just ask [agent] Scott [Boras].” — Juan Soto
My conclusion is that perhaps saying no was a negotiating tactic to raise the offer by being fearless about the market in free agency.
“…I’m just going to keep positive and keep seeing things forward.” — Juan Soto
My conclusion is that he is optimistic that his future will be bright. This attitude allows him to make decisions that include risk, such as saying no to a gigantic offer.
“I don’t want to keep losing. I hate losing. But it is what it is.” — Juan Soto
In 2019, Juan Soto played for the Nationals when they won the Word Series. This season, the Nationals’ 31 wins is the lowest in the Majors. Their chances of making the playoffs is nil. My conclusion is that although he wants to be on a team that makes the playoffs, he left open the possibility that the Nationals will again make the playoffs.
Why might Juan Soto sign with the Nationals?
As Juan Soto approaches free agency, the Nationals could keep improving their offers. The latest $440 Million offer was better than the offseason $350 Million offer.
The current owners of the Nationals may sell the team (in April they hired Allen & Company to explore the possibility). Similar to when Steve Cohen bought the Mets, the new owner could immediately direct the team to acquire better players.
Instead of paying him, the Nationals could give Juan Soto an equity position in their team (improving their cash flow). His equity would need to be a whopping 22.7% ownership in the team. My calculation was based on $440 Million divided by [team value of $2 Billion minus $500 Million debt plus $440 Million].
During the All-Star break Juan Soto won the Home Run Derby. It was more than just another trophy for his mantle. Juan Soto experienced winning while on a losing team. That could be enough to keep him on the Nationals.
The Pitching Matchups.
The Diamondbacks closer situation favors the Diamondbacks.
- On 14 July, the Nationals’ closer Tanner Rainey went on the 60 day IL with a sprained UCL. Called up was former Diamondback Tyler Clippard. In 2021, he had 6 saves in 9 opportunities playing for the Diamondbacks.
- The Diamondbacks’ closer is Mark Melancon. This season, he has 13 saves in 15 opportunities.
The starter matchups favor the Diamondbacks. The matchups follow.
Friday 6:40 PM Arizona time, Patrick Corbin (67 ERA+) vs Zac Gallen (114 ERA+).
This season we have seen former Diamondback Patrick Corbin at his worst and at his best.
- On 22 April, he pitched 1.2 innings against the Giants. He allowed 7 earned runs.
- On 28 June, he pitched 8 innings against the Pirates. He struck out 12 while allowing only 1 earned run via homer.
“His fastball was electric. His slider was awesome. He worked ahead in counts.” — Dave Martinez, Manager for Nationals
Zac Gallen pitched better than last season, improving his ERA+ from 97 to 114. Two games were very similar to Patrick Corbin’s worst and best games.
- On 10 June, he pitched 1.2 innings against the Phillies. He allowed 4 earned runs.
- On 8 May, he pitched 6 innings against the Padres. He struck out 11 while allowing only 1 earned run via homer.
In Zac Gallen’s best game, he demonstrated he has the right stuff.
“But here he was, at 93 pitches, coming out [to start the sixth inning] to face the middle of the Padres’ lineup for the third time. Granted, he’d kind of mown them down the first two times through the order, but he’d looked kinda gassed by the time he got through the fifth.” — Dano_in_Tucson
Saturday Josiah Gray (89 ERA+) vs Madison Bumgarner (106 ERA+).
Expectations are high for 24 year old Josiah Gray because he was acquired as part of the trade that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers.
Hot streaks and cold streaks describe pitching by Josiah Gray. He was hot in June with a 1.13 ERA against the Reds, Marlins, Phillies, and Rays. He was cold in July with a 7.02 ERA against the Marlins, Phillies, and Mariners.
“His slider has late bite, but his fastball, and we talk about this all the time, when he can throw his fastball around the plate, and be consistent with throwing his fastball, that makes his slider a lot better. — Dave Martinez, Manager for Nationals
“Every outing, he gets more and more in-tune with what he really wants to do and how he wants to attack hitters.” — Dave Martinez, Manager for Nationals
Madison Bumgarner’s greatness is shown by an amazing statistic. His career 1.1350 walks plus hits per inning pitched ranks tenth among active pitchers on a leader board for Baseball Reference.
His cutter fastball was great in April (.249 wOBA and .308 SLG). After lesser results in May and June, it’s effectiveness was largely restored in July (.303 wOBA and .370 SLG).
“Throwing the elevated, top-shelf cutter above the waist has been key...” — Brent Strom
Sunday Erick Fedde (80 ERA+) vs Merrill Kelly (124 ERA+).
This season, Erick Fedde started 18 games. He greatly exceeded pre-season expectations that he would be a reliever and make spot starts.
“[My advice to Erick Fedde is] …just go out there and throw strikes, but use your cutter [especially in your first two innings], I mean, your cutter is your best [pitch].” — Dave Martinez
“Erick Fedde has teased us at times this year , showing that he might yet turn the corner and be a middle of the rotation starter. At other times, he’s looked like one of the worst starters in the league.” — Jim Meyerriecks of SB Nation
This season until the All-Star break, Merrill Kelly’s 55.04 average game score was the highest on the Diamondbacks, barely edging ahead of Zac Gallen’s 54.97. Game scores were average of three methods (Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and 538.com).
“All five of his pitches have more movement this year.” —Tom Verducci
“He’s attacking the zone better.” — Brent Strom